11 Key Battles in World Football for Weekend of August 29-31
With midweek European competition and weekend domestic action, the matches are coming thick and fast around the continent at the beginning of the 2014-15 season. Over in North and South America, leagues and competitions range from the early stages to the final straights.
All told, it gives us a plethora of entertaining and important matches to look forward to over the coming weekend, which in some countries ties in with the closure of the transfer window.
Here are our 11 matches to watch for this weekend, starting on Friday night.
Valencia vs. Malaga, La Liga
Starting in Spain's Primera Division, Champions League hopefuls Valencia host Malaga in their first home match of the season.
Los Che took a late point from their difficult trip to Sevilla on the opening day and look to have strengthened well over the summer, though coach Nuno is still somewhat of an unknown quantity.
Malaga have also strengthened impressively over the summer, without having spent much, adding the likes of Guillermo Ochoa, Luis Alberto and Miguel Torres to their squad. They won last week and, without too much expectancy on them these days, could be in for a surprisingly productive season.
Burnley vs. Manchester United, Premier League
Burnley vs. Manchester United might not normally be one of the games that we pick, what with it featuring a newly promoted side against a top team—but it's not exactly that right now, plus there's history to recall.
The Turf Moor side are without a point from their first two games, but United have only managed one themselves and took a severe beating from League One side MK Dons in the Carling Cup during the week.
Meanwhile, veteran Premier League watchers will recall last time Burnley came up and played against United early on in the season—Robbie Blake's great goal securing a shock 1-0 win for the Clarets.
Monaco vs. Lille, Ligue 1
Ligue 1 now, where last season's second- and third-placed teams will face off when Monaco host Lille.
Leonardo Jardim's side have picked up just one win from three so far, a narrow victory over Nantes last time out, and the huge spending of last summer has been significantly reduced. They are also still waiting to see if star striker Radamel Falcao will be staying at the club.
Lille remain unbeaten after three games and could be the biggest benefactors of Monaco's second-season slump—but they'll have to make sure they can do their own job. Both teams would receive a hefty boost if they pick up a win on Saturday.
Schalke 04 vs. Bayern Munich, Bundesliga
Continuing around the biggest leagues in Europe, we now head to the Bundesliga, where Schalke host Bayern Munich on Matchday 2.
S04 suffered a defeat against Hannover in their opening league game of the season and, worse, were beaten by Dynamo Dresden in the DFB-Pokal the week before, leaving boss Jens Keller facing a big job to ensure his side don't kick off 2014-15 with three consecutive defeats.
Bayern Munich were not entirely convincing in their 2-1 victory over Wolfsburg last week, but they still took the points. In a league where they are expected to walk to the title once more, every game will be scrutinised to assess how Pep Guardiola will take on the challenge of the Champions League this term.
Roma vs. Fiorentina, Serie A
Fans of Italian football rejoice: Serie A finally kicks off this weekend, the last of the continent's big leagues to do so.
Perhaps the tastiest looking fixture of the opening weekend is AS Roma vs. Fiorentina, with the Giallorossi being last season's runners-up and the Viola, who finished fourth, being one of the most entertaining sides to watch.
The match promises to be a fascinating opener for the 2014-15 season.
Atlas vs. Santos Laguna, Liga MX
Leaving Europe now for the Americas, where the Liga MX brings us Atlas vs. Santos Laguna.
Though still in the early stages of the season—this will be the seventh match for both teams—there is already a group at the top who are beginning to pull away, with both these sides among that collection.
Based on last year's Apertura and Clausura campaigns, Santos Laguna might be expected to be the more likely to take victory—but they are fourth, one place and two points behind Atlas at present. Arturo Gonzalez has been Atlas' biggest threat so far, scoring three of their nine goals after only netting four last term.
Tottenham Hotspur vs. Liverpool, Premier League
Back to the Premier League, Sunday sees one of the match-ups take place which could shape the top-four race later on in the season as Liverpool visit Tottenham Hotspur.
Last year, this fixture was meant to determine which of the sides had progressed most under bosses Andre Villas-Boas and Brendan Rodgers; Liverpool absolutely slaughtered the home side, 5-0, and within days the Spurs boss had been sacked.
This time around Mauricio Pochettino is in charge of Tottenham, and they are top with two wins from two, while Liverpool lost to Manchester City on Monday night.
AC Milan vs. Lazio, Serie A
AC Milan's new manager, Pippo Inzaghi, gets his first chance to lead his club into battle in competitive action on Sunday, as the fallen giants host Lazio during Serie A's opening weekend.
A season of major struggles last term has meant big changes are needed for Milan, and judging by pre-season performances, they aren't necessarily coming quickly enough. Summer recruits have not been hugely impressive, either.
Lazio ended last season in ninth place, one point and league spot below Milan, but the likes of Stefan de Vrij and Marco Parolo should prove astute signings.
Whitecaps vs. Portland Timbers and D.C. United vs. New York RB, MLS
A double bill from MLS here, so an additional game for you to keep an eye out for this time, since there's no way of separating the two in terms of importance and potential excitement.
First up we have Vancouver Whitecaps vs. Portland Timbers; a Western Conference clash that could have massive implications for who makes the play-offs. The away side are two points behind their opponents, but they have played a game more, making victory in this match imperative. The Whitecaps occupy the fifth and final play-off place in the Conference—and both sides have an identical recent record, losing, drawing and winning their past three matches.
In the Eastern Conference, we have a clash between teams from arguably the nation's two most famous cities between D.C. United and New York Red Bulls.
D.C. are flying high, one point clear at the top of the Conference, while New York occupy the all-important fifth spot, just a point ahead of both Philadelphia Union and New England Revolution.
Villarreal vs. Barcelona, La Liga
For our final match, we finish up back in Europe and La Liga.
Barcelona were the most impressive of all Europe's big sides last weekend, rolling over Elche, 3-0, with a top performance, even after going down to 10 men.
This time around they face Villarreal, away from home—who themselves were terrific in beating Levante during the opening weekend. The Yellow Submarine were full of attacking intent and only struggled to put the finishing touches on their moves in front of goal; two second-half efforts eventually gave them a 2-0 win.
If both sides go for it, we should see a great game with plenty of technique and movement in fast-paced attacks, potentially making this one the game of the weekend anywhere.
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